Commericals 2.0: Advertising the Divine
The hyperbolic nature of Marshall McLuhan's statement, "Advertising is the greatest art form of the 20th century" does not take away from the truth it calls attention to. Nearly everything around us is based on that boundless web of forces called advertising. As the most prevalent form of contemporary advertising, commercials are the dominant artistic genre of the 20th and the 21st century. Look around: chances are you are surrounded by commercials more than by any other cultural artifact. The average person is exposed to 3,000 commercial advertising messages every day (in comparison to 650 in 1985). By the age of 35 we are exposed to about 150,000 thirty second commercials. As a culture we watch more commercials than we read books, visit the theater or go to the movies.
In a world where culture has migrated onto the net, the primary form it takes is that of the commercial-- one could actually say that we are creating an online culture based on advertising.
Conversion in a Consumer Product
"No group of sociologists can approximate the ad teams in the gathering and processing of exploitable social data" wrote McLuhan in his 1964 book, Understanding Media, introducing the notion that in a new world of hyper capitalism advertising is more exacting, powerful and far reaching than the academic work of legions of researchers and experts. Advertisements affect society much more directly and efficiently than academia because the commercial are more in synch with the playful irreverence of electronic culture than that of the often arid rationalism of the academy.
And so we have reached the current situation where what we call culture is the thin veil of commercialization that we feel the necessity to apply to even the most ordinary, everyday products. Popular music and television shows are concocted by advertising agencies in order to convey commercial messages in a more effective manner.
It is difficult to talk about (mass) culture in isolation from advertising. Advertising is our culture.
According to McLuhan commercials are meant for unconscious, subliminal consumption. Douglas Rushkoff furthers this argument when he writes that TV is a technology for programming people. When we watch television we let the mimetic objects which are being omitted from the TV set run in our consciousness like code sections running inside a computer. Words, voices and symbols which come from within the screen are put in the center of our attention; they become the center of our world and act as a consciousness transmission. Television is a sort of hypnosis.
Commercials are in that sense the essence of TV in its purest form: precise 30 second messages which are aimed to create a chirurgical intervention in the viewer's consciousness, catalyze a process of conversion and bring him to action. The decision to migrate from one product to another is conversion's correlate in the consumer world and commercials are the attempt to refine that great mystical experience into a short passage of media revelation.
Pills of deception
Commercials convey consciousness in an effective way but these consciousness forms have negative consequences because they are based on ulterior motives—greed based motives of obtaining more money.
In order to be successful, commercials base themselves on the endless fostering of discontent. This discontent is normally rooted in the recognition that the consumer lacks something, that he or she is unhappy or alternatively could be happier if only he or she buys something.
The commercial will teach you about the incompleteness of your situation which will manifest itself in more and more ways while always demanding more and more STUFF from a wide variety of corporations aimed at recreating a lost sense of wholeness: i.e., the idea is that you’ll feel happier once you purchase a car, a house, a candy bar, a tech gadget, a Pilates class, new clothes, etc.
But despite these obvious adverse psychic effects we gulp down endless amounts of these poisons. Commercials, after all, are the price of admission into our commercials based culture yet all the while we tell ourselves that commercials do not influence us.
Media is second-hand psychedelics
After discussing all these evident shortcomings of the commercials, it’s time to get back to the positive side of this whole story, to the great untapped potential of this medium which is implied in some of McLuhan’s statements.
Psychedelic philosopher Terrence McKenna was no less a great provocateur than McLuhan and as well he was perhaps the greatest savage among the philosophers, not only due to the bulk of mind altering substances he consumed but because his theories are jungles of tangled, maniac, carnivorous ideas.
One of these wild proposals was that the human race could no longer allow itself to have an unconscious. According to McKenna, the idea of having an inaccessible part of our psyche that cannot be controlled is an unthinkable situation in the current state of our technological evolution. He argues that the supposed need for such a part is based on a series of lies which our culture has to rid itself of as soon as possible. An unconscious is tolerable when hunting wild boars in the forest but not when you hold the keys to weapons of mass destruction which have the capacity to annihilate the planet in a single moment.
According to McKenna, the media is a visual illustration of our collective unconscious and divulges the structure of that unconscious, thus creating the basis for making it shared consciousness. McKenna believes that television's visual language of cut and paste composition is influenced by psychedelic experience. These experiences are then retransmitted into mass society through television, making it a source of “second-hand psychedelics”.
Advertising the divine
"If God manifested himself to us, he would do so in the form of a product advertised on TV" (Philip K. Dick)
Philip K. Dick's novel Ubik depicts a world undergoing a process of deterioration and degeneration which can only be stopped using a consumer product in the form of ornately striped spray can.
Dick understood the deep force and meaning which commercials carry in our culture very well. Ubik is full of commercials bearing cosmic messages. Each chapter in the novel begins with a commercial for a mysterious consumer product called Ubik, and each advertisement exposes Ubik as a totally different form of product. At one time Ubik is salad dressing, at another it is a detergent; it appears as a medicine for the stomach, as a shaving blade, as a brassiere, as a hair crème, etc, etc. Ubik is a sort of master-product which symbolizes humanity's never ending wish to appropriate the world. The Ubik spray which appears near the end of Dick's book is a spray which can give life to anything – it is a spray which fulfills the part of God fighting the devil which destroys the world.
Ubik equates the way modern consumers seek salvation from consumer products to seeing salvation from God. In a godless world we go to consumer products so that they will fix the biggest conflicts in our life. God's part in correcting the world has been privatized to numerous groups of consumer products collectively called "Ubik."
Real advertisements for divine light are advertisements which will not emphasize that which is lacking but the abundance coming from within. Such advertisements for God would concentrate not on consumer products but on the process of creation. A pursuit to create such commercials stood in the basis of the 4th episode of the intergalactic master’s course.
In this episode which deals with the effects of media the Intergalactic Underground tried to disclose a few of media's influences and create a preliminary attempt at creating a divine commercial for some kind of Ubik, in this case a coke composed of light.
While this specific attempt was somewhat underdeveloped, it is a proposition for others who might wish to continue and develop this notion of a new kind of commercials. Commercials which will not sell you products, but sell you to yourself. These new commercials will expose the inner areas in the inner mall of consciousness and inform consciousness consumers about the products which exists within.
By working from such a model we would be able to create creative and sincere commercials which will act as transformative media pills. Imagine a world surrounded not by advertisements of things you can buy, but by psychedelic commercials which call you to explore your inner life. Such cultural artifacts can then function as the building stones of a new media-ecology which will sustain man's effort of cultural and spiritual transformation.Tweet